Day out: Inchnadamph Bone Caves, Sutherland
Escape to Scotland's snow-capped Highlands and discover the Bone Caves – a network of hidden underground hollows, once hideouts for predatory prehistoric beasts
Hidden amid the magnificent North West Highlands Geopark on Scotland’s wild west coast are the Inchnadamph Bone Caves. On a unique wintry day out, unearth incredible tales of the last ice age and the huge carnivores that once roamed these lands.
The north of Scotland houses many a mystery, but perhaps none more intriguing than that of the Bone Caves. Rewind 18,000 years and this landscape – along with much of the UK – was gripped in the clutches of Britain’s last ice age, and dominated by large apex predators, such as lynx, wolves and even polar bears. Yet, unlike the surrounding lands, the elevated and retreated position of the caves left them untouched by the vast ice sheets that scraped their way through the valleys below. And so it was that in 1927 cavers excavated the bones of what is now understood to be the remains of the last-known wild polar bear in Britain.
Now protected by Scottish Natural Heritage, these caves offer a unique window into Scotland’s prehistoric past and complex geology, and provide a great focal point for a winter wander.
An enjoyable 4km route from Inchnadamph car park hugs the river – fast-flowing in February from winter rains – before a quick ascent and contour through the valley to the Bone Caves. Overlooking the geopark, the mouths of these limestone caverns offer an unrivalled picnic spot amid a quiet mountain tranquillity that is hard to beat.
With arguably the best of the spectacular North Coast 500 road route stretching out ahead, and the iconic ruins of 15th-century Ardvreck Castle and nearby Calda House on Loch Assynt, you’ll find plenty more to do in the area once you’ve finished exploring the caves.
The nature of winter
The remote, windswept landscape of Assynt attracts a variety of flora and fauna rarely seen elsewhere in the UK.
Inchnadamph is the largest area of limestone in Scotland, making it a haven for wildflowers in spring and summer, including mountain avens, globeflowers, serrated wintergreens and holly ferns. Look out too for majestic golden eagles, flocks of golden plovers, roaming red deer and maybe even the odd mountain hare in the lower lands of Assynt, camouflaged against the snow in its glorious white winter coat.